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History - Fergus Hamilton

Fergus is from Guildford, Surrey, and attended his local comprehensive sch ool, where he took A-levels in English Literature, French and History. He was attracted to Cambridge by the beautiful buildings and promise of a great academic environment. Having gained a place for deferred entry, he took a gap year, working before travelling to South East Asia and South America. He graduated in 2013 with a First class honours degree, before going on to work at the Department for International Development. At university he dabbled in rowing and singing, was the JCR access officer and president of the May Ball in his final year.

“I can’t imagine a better place to study History. You can study almost whatever you like; I looked at 20th-century Congo, Renaissance sculpture, the rise of Japan, gay men in Victorian Britain and a whole host of other topics. You also get a huge amount of support and attention from your supervisors, who are often the lead experts in their field and are genuinely interested in what you have to say. I was lucky enough to always have 1-on-1 supervisions, which really make you know your stuff as you have to talk about your essay for an hour! I didn’t really have any idea what topics I wanted to study when I arrived, but you soon find yourself pursuing topics you barely knew existed.

Having myself been quite torn between History and languages before I applied, it is worth considering that there are papers available in German and French. At St John’s I had the opportunity to undertake language supervisions and access to travel grants to help with the cost of visiting other countries in the summer. History is a very diverse subject; there are opportunities to look at Anthropology, political theory, Art History, Economics, Archaeology and literature, indeed it would be unusual not to come across at least some of these. Obviously a History degree will not give you an in depth knowledge of these fields and you don’t get a year abroad as you would with a language degree, but equally you won’t find yourself in any way stuck in a niche.

The course is great, and it is true that it is demanding, but Cambridge is certainly not all work and no play. I was able to devote large amounts of my time to extra-curricular activities, whether rowing (promptly dropped when realised I was terrible and it was freezing!), being involved in musical theatre or organising the best and biggest ball in Oxford or Cambridge (if you don’t believe me Google it). College-level sport is great for the (like me) non-sporty as there will always be a squad at your level however slow, clumsy, or unco-ordinated you are. As well as this, I still had time to hang out in friend’s rooms and even occasionally visit home.

Living in College you are surrounded by your fellow students and located right in the centre of town, perfect for walking back from lectures or evenings out. I had loads of fun at St John’s and have made friends for life. The College has a nice community atmosphere, but you can also, as many do, socialise elsewhere, and perhaps join University-level clubs and societies. The rooms in St John’s are lovely and varied, ranging from oak-panelled and in turrets, to living in a College-owned house if you want to.

It will seem a long way off now, but you are also spoiled with opportunities to make the best start in your career. The careers fairs attract the world’s best employers and at dinners and talks I have heard or spoken to people from the top of just about every profession you can think of: law, politics, business, journalism, human rights activism, the arts, you name it. History is a great start for most careers; I work in international development and have History friends who are journalists, finance analysts and film producers. The pace of work and opportunities for extra-curricular activities give you the best preparation you could wish for when it comes to applying for all sorts of jobs.  

Cambridge and St John’s are amazing places to study and live for anyone who is fascinated by their subject and has a desire to do well. I attended a state school but I have friends who went to all types of schools and are from all different sorts of family backgrounds. The buildings may appear grand and imposing, but it is your mind that counts, nothing else. Don’t feel bothered by people’s dress sense, accent or background; they won’t be by yours. If money is a concern, St John’s is fortunate enough to have the resources to make sure that no matter what your circumstances, they will never prevent you from reaching your full potential. If anyone tells you that Cambridge is only for certain types of people I’m willing to bet they’ve never actually been there; if they had they would know better.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time at St John’s doing History, so long as you’re genuinely interested in your subject, then you should apply, you won’t regret it.”

Fergus Hamilton, December 2013